Get involved. Whether you put boots on the ground and help a homeless person or just donate money to a cause that helps them. Be active in solving this crisis. We tend to dress up and attend balls and gala charity events thinking that is all that is needed. It’s good to donate money but try to step out of your comfort zone and really see if there is one step more you can take to help out an individual.
As a part of my series about “Heroes Of The Homeless Crisis” I had the pleasure of interviewing Kim Rockwell.
Kim Rockwell worked in the pharmaceutical industry for over 22 years. She is now retired and lives in Del Mar, California with her husband Ken and her two children.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to ‘get to know you’ a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your personal background, and how you grew up?
I grew up in Laguna Hills, California. I graduated from UC Santa Barbara with a degree in Psychology and Sociology. I worked in the pharmaceutical industry for 22 years with companies like Pfizer, Eli Lilly and Johnson and Johnson. I am currently retired and volunteer my time to different causes. I currently live in Del Mar, California with my husband Ken and our two children.
Is there a particular story or incident that inspired you to get involved in your work helping people who are homeless?
I had a friend that I was very close to that had a father that struggled being bi-polar. We were on a trip to Italy when she shared with me that her dad would get off of his medication and end up on the streets from time to time. When he was medicated he was healthy and fine. I never looked at the homeless the same way. When I saw someone homeless, I saw someone’s brother, dad, mother etc. I had another friend that inspired me that unfortunately passed away from cancer. She was very giving.. To honor her on her birthday, we help others with a note telling her story and how she was always so kind. We try to carry on her legacy of kindness to strangers. My kids have now adopted this way of living and help me give back to the homeless in our community.
Homelessness has been a problem for a long time in the United States. But it seems that it has gotten a lot worse over the past five years, particularly in the large cities, such as Los Angeles, New York, Seattle, and San Francisco. Can you explain to our readers what brought us to this place? Where did this crisis come from?
You are exactly right. I especially remember living in San Francisco and seeing this number grow. I have a friend that works for a pharmaceutical company that promotes anti-psychotic pharmaceuticals. She said the homeless population is often just in need of strong mental care. The majority of patients that have illnesses such as schizophrenia either cannot get access to medical care because of a lack of medical insurance or choose not to take the medication. They need an advocate to help keep them on their meds. Also, the treatment for substance abuse is lacking or ineffective. My brother is an ER doctor. I remember him mentioning someone that was young and a genius student at MIT but he developed severe paranoia and became homeless. It ruined his whole life. Many times, these patients may not even trust their own families that try to help.
For the benefit of our readers, can you describe the typical progression of how one starts as a healthy young person with a place to live, a job, an education, a family support system, a social support system, a community support system, to an individual who is sleeping on the ground at night? How does that progression occur?
There is a 79 year old man I am trying to help get back on his feet that could help illustrate this. Les was a very successful businessman. He had a wife and a home in front of the water and living the American dream. He and his wife divorced. Then he had to sue a large corporation because they didn’t keep their side of the agreement and as the case dragged on, he ended up losing everything and having to move into his car. He had wonderful friends but everyone had their own families. His best friends had already passed on. His step-brother was in a different state and had his own family to take care of.
In this year of the pandemic, we can all see how life can turn on a dime. Very successful people lost their businesses and livelihood almost overnight. Even a medical illness could wipe someone out. In addition to mental illness, a lot of cities are short affordable housing. Imagine a family relying on just one income.
Les was very smart and loved to read but had no idea how to apply for Medicare or Medi-cal. He did not know where to access social services. He could not even apply for the vaccine shot as he needed to “sign up online”. He has a flip phone without text messaging. My parents are the same age and they needed my help signing up for the vaccine. Consider the homeless person who probably does not even have a phone. They have no access to the internet and no idea what resources are out there or how to access them.
A question that many people who are not familiar with the intricacies of this problem ask is, “Why don’t homeless people just move to a city that has cheaper housing?” How do you answer this question?
If they have no money then they have no money. So living in sunny southern California on the street beats the cold streets of somewhere like Detroit, Michigan. Also, maybe being in an affluent neighborhood, like Del Mar, they can get more money (or help) from the affluent people in the area. Les had numerous people that stopped in at his hangout (McDonalds) that helped him with car repair bills and even paying for his cell phone.
If someone passes a homeless person on the street, what is the best way to help them?
First and foremost, remember that we are all human beings. Some may have mental issues so be aware and stay safe. Ask them if there is something they need. Don’t just assume they want food or money. In the case of Les, he needed someone to help him find and access to resources and medical care. Just talk to them. I plan to carry around a flyer now with numbers of resources on them. I will give it out to a homeless person in case they do not know that there are community resources available in the area. Les did not even know there was free medical care for the indigent. He could have treated his skin cancer on day one five years ago. Now he has a life threatening tumor. He could have had social security money and Medicare. He did not know how to apply or get these services set up. He had no one to help him.
What is the best way to respond if a homeless person asks for money for rent or gas?
I usually do not like to give money. I ask what they need in terms of clothing, blankets, pillows or help with resources. I also like to tell them I will buy them a meal. Then I always follow up. If they need a blanket, I make sure to get them a blanket.
Can you describe to our readers how your work is making an impact battling this crisis?
I’m trying to make a difference one person at a time. If we each did this, imagine the world we would live in. Some cities have so much homelessness that it’s easy to become numb and not see them as human beings. One may think they are in this situation by choice because of drugs and alcohol. But most are people like you and I that have been dealt a bad hand in life. We need to hear their stories and humanize them. Be an advocate if even just for one person. Many people told me the homeless just don’t want help. That is not true. Some may not, but the majority are begging (literally) for someone to help them. That is someone’s family member and we are fortunate to have the means to help them. My parents are lucky they have 3 kids to care for them but many elderly are not so lucky.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the homeless crisis, and the homeless community? Also how has it affected your ability to help people?
It is already scary living on the street and I think this added another layer of fear. I liked hearing about the hotel voucher system where someone can stay clean and get a 28 day voucher to a hotel room. I have to admit that until I was vaccinated, I was a bit wary of talking to anyone or getting close. But I still tried to help Les because I saw him as a fellow human being. Every day of life has risks involved but the feeling you get from helping someone is unlike any other. It just feels like it’s the right thing to do.
Can you share something about your work that makes you most proud? Is there a particular story or incident that you found most uplifting?
My kids encouraged me to talk to Les and hear his story. It started a chain of events. I helped a stranger, then strangers helped me. I posted on an app called “nextdoor” that I was trying to help this homeless man and I was in a bit over my head. Within minutes, 200 people replied wanting to help. It made me proud of my community and my kids. I also met some wonderful like-minded friends along the way. My kids now consider Les as their “adopted grandpa”.
Can you share three things that the community and society can do to help you address the root of this crisis? Can you give some examples?
- Get involved. Whether you put boots on the ground and help a homeless person or just donate money to a cause that helps them. Be active in solving this crisis. We tend to dress up and attend balls and gala charity events thinking that is all that is needed. It’s good to donate money but try to step out of your comfort zone and really see if there is one step more you can take to help out an individual.
- Never be afraid to talk to the homeless. You will be amazed at the stories you will find. When I saw Les’ pictures of his childhood, it brought me to tears. To think of his life and where he ended up. It is such a tragedy.
- Make access to social services readily available. Community outreach is needed so the homeless know where to go for help. I found numerous resources just by doing one simple post on a community app called Nextdoor.com. The homeless do not have the ability to learn where these resources are. Most do not have access to the internet. When I tried to help Les, the 211 resource center told me Les had to call himself. I think they should allow advocates to help. Community resource centers need people promoting their services to the homeless community.
If you had the power to influence legislation, which three laws would you like to see introduced that might help you in your work?
- Better mental health coverage
- Hotel voucher programs beyond the pandemic
- Advocate program like they have for foster parents but for the homeless.
I know that this is not easy work. What keeps you going?
Les was so grateful. My kids were so happy we got involved. The amazing group of people that came forward to help me were so wonderful that it all motivated me to keep going.
Do you have hope that one day this great social challenge can be solved completely?
I am ever hopeful but realistic. We instituted great plans when the pandemic came around. This is needed all the time and not just during the pandemic.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Do not try to do it all yourself. You will burn out. Learn to ask for help and delegate. Many times, people want to help but just don’t know how.
- Do not let it be all consuming. You need to balance family and your work.
- Always have an end goal or plan for the person you are trying to help.
- Never give up on trying to help them — you are all they have.
- Take a leap of faith. Just know that doors will open to help you once you begin your journey of helping someone in need.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I would love to see people “adopt a homeless person”. It doesn’t have to be literally into their home. Be an advocate for someone. Social workers have thousands of people that check in with them. If we could all be assigned one person to care for, be and advocate for, I bet we could change a lot in terms of the homeless population.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Give a man a fish he eats for a day, teach a man to fish he eats for a lifetime”. I think of the quote as “Don’t just give money but help the homeless to stand on their own two feet again”.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Bill Gates. He has been extremely successful and he always gives back. He spent the first half of his life creating ideas for the general population. Rather than just sit back and live the good life, he put a ton of time and effort into helping the underprivileged. I have watched numerous documentaries on him. He inspires me to be more giving and generous. The kids watch “Mr. Beast”. He is a good example of how giving back can make you feel good.
How can our readers follow you online?
I am on Linked-in.
This was very meaningful, thank you so much!
Thank you for having me! If you could, I would appreciate it if you could include Les’ GoFundMe link: